Cabaero: Case against online bully

A court decision that convicted a man for insulting and threatening a government official in Africa may seem far off from the Philippine setting. Still, it sends cyberbullies and trolls the message that the law can catch up with them.

A Dutch Court in The Hague, Netherlands, has found that Abdulkadir Adde, aka Roberto, had targeted Deqa Yasin, then a Somali Minister for Women Affairs and Human Rights, as she campaigned for reproductive rights and imposition of penalties for sexual offenses. A report from the news website Nation (Nation.Africa) on Nov. 14, 2022, said the convict was meted a suspended sentence and compulsory community service.

The report said Deqa’s legal team told the court that Roberto, who also holds Dutch citizenship, had used his Facebook account to insult the then minister in September 2020. Deqa, a human rights activist, was minister until October 2020. She had pushed for a law to protect women against early childhood marriages, rape and other sexual harassment.

Her lawyers said the man known as Roberto had threatened the life of then minister Deqa in response to her advocacy for Somalia’s first law against sexual and gender-based violence, the news report said. Deliberation on the proposed law led to a debate on social media that bordered on hate speech.

The ex-minister said Roberto issued threats in a video posted on Facebook on Sept. 15, 2020, calling on Somali militant group Al Shabaab “and the general public to kill me...” and that “he would take full responsibility on behalf of anyone who kills me.”

While the case is the first criminal issue in which a Somali citizen has been indicted in a foreign court, it could set a precedent, including in Somalia where online trolls or threats are largely ignored, the news report said.

The complaint of the former Somali minister is painfully familiar in the Philippines where there are heated exchanges on social media that include slander, libel, harassment and serious threats. When women are the target, it appears that the insults and name-calling take on a higher intensity. Take as example the online vitriol thrown at former vice president Leni Robredo, former senator Leila de Lima and journalist Maria Ressa.

The online pests did not target only them but other politicians, public figures, celebrities, journalists and private individuals, male or female. There have been, unfortunately, little or no court convictions of these cyberbullies and trolls.

The Philippines has laws against cyberbullying and other internet crimes but the prominent cases are those that involved charges of cyber-libel against journalists, including columnists, critics of the government, and individual social media users. The Office of Cybercrime at the Department of Justice reported that 3,700 cyber-libel cases were filed as of May 2022, the Human Rights Watch (HRW.org) said.

This decision by the Dutch court serves as a precedent for those fighting cyberbullies and trolls in the Philippines and elsewhere.